Here's another case of life imitating science fiction. John Brunner's 1975 science fiction novel Shockwave Rider prefigures WikiLeaks. First a summary of the novel, and then the section in which the worm is unleashed which reveals all the secrets on the data-net.
I continue to watch for disclosures about peak oil. Nothing so far, but apparently we've only seen a small part of what is to come. Already there have been revelations about the U.S. climate change strategy in Copenhagen, and Saudi influence on U.S. climate policy.
-EB co-editor BA
The Shockwave Rider is a science fiction novel by John Brunner, originally published in 1975. It is notable for its hero's use of computer cracking skills to escape pursuit in a dystopian future, and for the coining of the word "worm" to describe a program that propagates itself through a computer network.
... Based on the ideas in the book Future Shock by Alvin Toffler, the novel shows a dystopian early 21st century America dominated by computer networks, and is considered by some critics to be an early ancestor of the "cyberpunk" genre. The hero, Nick Haflinger, is a runaway from Tarnover, a government program intended to find, educate and indoctrinate highly gifted children to further the interests of the state ...
... [At the end] Nick has another plan, and rather than running and hiding, he ... creates a new "worm" which is designed to destroy all secrecy. (Brunner invented the term "worm" for this program, as a self-replicating program that propagates across a computer network - the term "worm" was later adopted by computer researchers as the name for this type of program.)
The worm is eventually activated, and the details of all the government's dark secrets (clandestine genetic experimentation that produces crippled children, bribes and kickbacks from corporations, concealed crimes of high public officials) now become accessible from anywhere on the network ...
Shockwave Rider by John Brunner 1975.
Page 247-252 of the paperback edition from Ballentine Books.
THE WHOLE CONTINENT ON THE BRINK OF ONE PRECIPICE
The press conference automatically called by Nick's program was to be held in the largest auditorium on the UMKC campus. The students had been delighted to commandeer it. Discreetly, the university authorities declined a request from the state governor to intervene. ,,,
Moreover, for the first time in well over a generation, the mass of public opinion was in agreement with the students. Gratifying. If it didn't heal the split, at least it moved the split to a healthier location.
The hall was packed -- it was crammed. ... At long last, however, Kate was able to appear on stage, to be greeted by a standing ovation that threatened never to end. It took her a long time to pat down the noise. When she finally did so, the putter-of-cats-among-pigeons made his appearance, and the audience settled to an expectant hush.
"My name is Nicholas Haflinger." In a loud clear voice, capable of filling the auditorium without the aid of microphones. "You're wondering why I've called you here. The reason is simple. To answer all your questions. I mean -- all. This is the greatest news of our time. As of today, whatever you want to know, provided it's in the data-net, you can now know. In other words, there are no more secrets." That claim was so sweeping that his listeners sat briefly stunned. Long seconds slid away ...
"If there's one thing BDP [the Federal Bureau of Data Processing] has brought to a fine art, it's preventing the public from digging unpleasant truths from behind the scenes in government... right?"
A rattle of agreement: from the students on principle, but from several reporters too, who looked so glum one might presume they'd encountered that kind of trouble.
"Well, that's over. From now on: ask and you shall know."
"Hey!" In an incredulous tone from a man beside Rose Jordan. "All kind of weird stuff has been coming off the beams since yesterday, like they've been paying women to bear kids that are sure to be deformed. You mean this is supposed to be true?"
"What makes you doubt it?"
"Well -- uh..." The man licked his lips. "I called my office half an hour back and my chief said it's been authoritatively deeveed. By Aylwin Sullivan personally. Something about a saboteur."
"That must be me." Cocking one eyebrow. "Any word of this sabotage being stopped?"
"Not that I heard."
"Good. At least they didn't make that ridiculous promise. Because it can't be stopped. I guess you all know about tapeworms... ? Good. Well, what I turned loose in the net yesterday was the father and mother -- I'll come back to that in a moment -- the father and mother of all tapeworms.
"It consists in a comprehensive and irrevocable order to release at any printout station any and all data in store whose publication may conduce to the enhanced well-being, whether physical, psychological or social, of the population of North America.
"Specifically, whether or not anybody has required a printout of it, information concerning gross infringements of Canadian, Mexican and/or United States legal enactments respecting -- in order of priority -- public health, the protection of the environment, bribery and corruption, fair business and the payment of national taxes, shall be disseminated automatically to all the media. For this purpose 'gross' is defined by setting a threshold: no such infringement shall be published unless at least one person made from it an illegal profit of at least ten thousand dollars."
He had straightened as he spoke. Now he was arrow-rigid, and his voice boomed in huge resounding periods like the tolling of a death bell.
"This is indeed the father and mother of a tapeworm. It's of a type known as parthenogenetic. If you're acquainted with contemporary data-processing jargon, you'll have noticed how much use it makes of terminology derived from the study of living animals. And with reason. Not for nothing is a tapeworm called a tapeworm. It can be made to breed.
[technical explanation of the "worms" that make possible the liberating of the data.]
"In back of that again, there's the key which opens the secure data banks at all secret psychological research establishments, including Tarnover and Crediton Hill. Behind that is one which opens the Treasury files on tax-avoidance suits unpursued by presidential order. Behind that is the one which opens similar files belonging to the Attorney General. Behind that is the one which opens the files of the Food and Drug Authority. And so on. By now I don't know exactly what there is in the worm. More bits are being added automatically as it works its way to places I never dared guess existed. The last I found out about before I came along to talk to you was a key for the CIA's sexual-blackmail file. There's some raunchy material in there, and I predict it will be popular home viewing this winter.
"A couple of final points before someone asks me. First, is this an unforgivable invasion of privacy? Invasion of privacy it is; unforgivable... Well, do you believe that justice shall not only be done but shall be seen to be done? The privacy my worm is designed to invade is that privacy under whose cover justice is not done and injustice is not seen. It doesn't care whether the poker [guy] who leeched his tax-free payoff spent it on seducing little girls; it cares only that he was rewarded for committing a crime and wasn't brought to book. It doesn't care if the shivver [guy] who bought that congressman was straight or gay; it cares only that a public servant took a bribe. It doesn't care if the judge who misdirected the jury was concerned to keep her lover's identity secret; it cares only that a person was jailed who should have been released.
"And -- no, it can't be killed. It's indefinitely self-perpetuating so long as the net exists. Even if one segment of it is inactivated, a counterpart of the missing portion will remain in store at some other station and the worm will automatically subdivide and send a duplicate head to collect the spare groups and restore them to their proper place. Incidentally, though, it won't expand to indefinite size and clog the net for other use. It has built-in limits."
He gave a faint smile.
"Though I say so myself, it's a neat bit of work."
All of a sudden a man no older than his thirties, but pot-bellied, who had been in a seat near the back of the hall, came yelling down the aisle.
"Traitor!" he howled. "Goddamned stinking traitor!"
With his right hand he was tugging at something under his jacket; it appeared to have caught. It came free. It was a pistol. He tried to aim it.
But a quick-witted student in a seat on the aisle stuck out his leg. The fat man went sprawling with a yell, and next moment a booted foot tramped on his right wrist and he was disarmed.
From the platform Nick said, "Ah. That's the first. It won't be the last."